"SuttaCentral, what is the root of suffering?"

While looking into an assisted query engine for SC, I posed a simple question which gave unexpected results. To preface, let’s assume the use case of a request for the definition of a phrase in the Dhamma. Indeed, let us ask SuttaCentral, about the “root of suffering”.

SuttaCentral today returns 7533 results for root of suffering. This is ironic because it illustrates the suffering incurred by the voice assisted user who might respond with some sarcasm, “Yes do indeed read them all now”.

Now let’s look at the actual translation repository in github. And let us in particular issue a simple text search for what “is the root of suffering”

grep -r “is the root of suffering”

Eliminating duplicates we find 3 results:

mn/en/mn105.po:"Understanding that attachment is the root of suffering, they are freed with "
mn/en/mn001.po:msgstr “Because he has understood that relishing is the root of suffering,”
sn/en/sn42/sn42.11.po:msgstr “For desire is the root of suffering.”

This is what can be done with simple tools.


Oh my! Thank you so much for this opportunity to practice my compassion skills. Although in many respects it would be a blessing to have to job of just reading 7533 suttas, I did nevertheless feel for poor old Voice and wondered how I might lighten it’s load.

A quotation wrapped search phrase (“root of suffering”) was my best answer; just a humble 13 results. Of course then, typically, knowing that translations of things vary, I’d want to try to isolate the Pali phrase (which, incidentally, is why I still continue to plead with the devas to look favourably on the sticky settings feature request), but as it’s such a short list here, maybe it’s okay to leave it at that. :slight_smile:

Oh and,

:heart_eyes: discovering grep was one of the greatest highlights of my year last year … alas, I’ve completely forgotten how to use it now… still, off I float away to fond dreamy memories :wink:


Hi Karl. Don’t forget that you can use quotes in the search. Searching for: “is the root of suffering” on SC I only get 13 hits:


Some, of course, are alternative translations.


Thank you. I did not know.


We all think differently. I found 7,709 results for

“root” and “suffering”


which may be why we can continue loving and supporting and asking for assistance from librarians, data base managers, and other s as we learn to use any resource… How can THIS resource be queried? :slight_smile:

Thank you for your post. It may help me and or others to study better!


This was also my first attempt at search. And it failed miserably:

  • SC has no reverse dictionary. We can’t find the Pali term for desire even though we have nandi defined in SC as joy, pleasure, delight
  • The various derivatives are bewildering. For example, what is difference between dukkha and dukkhasa, which is not defined on SC.
  • I could not find the Pali equivalent for “is” used to define a term.

After various failed attempts to design a Pali search, I gave up but would be glad to hear of any solutions or suggestions.


One thing you will notice is that although 13 results is fine for the sighted it still results in suffering for the visually impaired. We take for granted our ability to scan a full page quickly. This gift is not given to the visually impaired. Simply consider the time and effort required to read and understand all 13 results returned by “is the root of suffering”". We must filter the results brutally and slash away all excess.

If we filter the results we would have the following phrases distilled from the SC translation repository:

  • "Understanding that attachment is the root of suffering "
  • “Because he has understood that relishing is the root of suffering,”
  • “For desire is the root of suffering.”

This phrase-based search to find a sutta seems to work even for esoteric queries, such as “what is the reed?”, for which we would have the following as navigational gateway to (dn10, dn2, mn77):

This is the reed, this is the sheath. The reed and the sheath are different

Please share a few of your favorite “what is X?” queries and I’ll run them through the proposed algorithm for discussion.

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